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April 09, 2018

WrestleMania 34: Rousey impresses in debut, Asuka’s streak over, Lesnar reigns

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Ronda Rousey put on a great performance in her in-ring WWE debut at WrestleMania 34.

On Sunday night, WWE’s main roster took center stage in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the biggest event of the year, WrestleMania.

I’d be hard-pressed not to mention the previous night’s NXT TakeOver event in the Smoothie King Center right next door, which inarguably is the best NXT TakeOver event in history. The main event featuring Johnny Gargano taking on Tommaso Ciampa - a match featuring two former best friends and tag team partners that split when Ciampa attacked Gargano last year after a match - was one of the best and most emotionally draining main event I’ve ever witnessed. Pro wrestling has always been about storytelling, and that was a masterpiece. Do yourself a favor and go out of your way to catch it on the WWE Network, because that’s what pro wrestling is all about.

That’s also not to mention the Ladder Match for the inaugural NXT North American Championship defense in which Adam Cole captured the gold, Shayna Baszler defeated Ember Moon in a fantastic match and finish, Cole pulling double duty and teaming with Kyle O’Reilly to retain the NXT Tag Team Championship and win the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic (a tournament they weren’t even a part of, but I digress) that featured a heel turn by Roderick Strong, and Aleister Black defeating Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT Championship. Every single match was fantastic in its own way and the drama was there. It’s definitely one of the finest professional wrestling events I’ve ever witnessed.

Unfortunately for WWE’s main roster, they had to follow that up with one of the better-looking WrestleMania cards on paper in recent memory. But just because it looked good on paper meant nothing, and it was up to all the main roster superstars to deliver. Let’s get to the action, where the first three matches of the night took place on the WrestleMania Kickoff:

Matt Hardy won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

WWE turned back the clock for this match with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler commentating along with Byron Saxton. It was a fairly standard battle royal until Bray Wyatt made his triumphant return to help Matt Hardy eliminate both past winners Mojo Rawley and Baron Corbin. Hardy and Wyatt embraced after the match, so it seems like Wyatt is a babyface now and it’ll be interesting to see if this is a new tag team or group.

I thought Jeff Hardy would make a surprise entrance, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Cedric Alexander defeated Mustafa Ali by pinfall to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

This match was the culmination of a fantastic tournament that took place exclusively on 205 Live on the WWE Network over the last month-plus. Both Ali and Alexander were pumped before the bell sounded and it showed. The two didn’t disappoint.

Alexander got the win after somehow getting his leg on the rope when Ali hit the 054, a reverse 450 splash for those unfamiliar, and then hitting Ali with a series of back elbows before finally ending it with the Lumbar Check.

While I think Ali’s story leading up to this match was the best out of any of the Cruiserweights, I hope this isn’t the end of Ali in the title picture. I think he will eventually hold the Cruiserweight Championship, but both of these men deserved the stage and I hope it’s not the last we see of them competing against each other.

Naomi won the inaugural Women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal

There were 20 participants in this one, and I’m still surprised WWE decided not to go with the Bayley/Banks singles matchup here. Let’s hope they are reserving it for a possible main event spot on a future pay-per-view, because a match like that could tear the house down just like it did in at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn.

In a twist of fate, this time it was Bayley turning on Banks, eliminating her after a handshake. However, Naomi was still in the match and eliminated Bayley, becoming the first-ever Women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal winner.

Seth Rollins defeated The Miz © and Finn Bálor by pinfall in a Triple Threat Match to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The main card started off with a banger, and Seth Rollins’ eyes were ice cold when he walked out. Bálor entered with members of the New Orleans LGBT cheering him on as members of the Bálor Club. Meanwhile, The Miz didn’t want The Miz-tourage to accompany him to the ring. Talk about a champion doing the right thing!

Of course these three had an amazing match. The spots were crisp and everything looked good. After receiving a bulldog/Skull-Crushing Finale hybrid off the top rope, Rollins was able to capitalize on Bálor hitting the

Coup de Grâce on Miz, and would hit Bálor with the Blackout on Miz’s back and then finished it off with a Blackout to Miz to become a Grand Slam Champion.

Charlotte Flair © defeated Asuka by submission to retain the SmackDown Women’s Championship

Asuka came in to this match having never been pinned or submitted in her WWE career, and I didn’t think there was a chance she would lose Sunday night.

This match had everything. High-risk action, submission maneuvers and near falls.  And one huge swerve. While all undefeated streaks eventually end, I could have sworn WWE would have Asuka defeat Flair and become the first undefeated women’s champion in the company. But they swerved us all! 

Flair locked the Figure Eight on Asuka and the 2018 Royal Rumble winner tapped out. Asuka tapped out. She is no longer undefeated. She is not a Women’s Champion… yet. While she eventually will become Women’s Champion on Raw or SmackDown, this became all about Flair and her run into history.

Defeating Asuka would have been a gold mine for any woman on the roster. That now belongs to Flair, who didn’t really need to rub. But WWE seems hell bent on making Flair the greatest women’s wrestler in the company’s history, and this is how they do it.

After the match, Asuka congratulated Flair for beating her. Then said she was happy about it backstage. Huh.

Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton © and Rusev and Bobby Roode in a Fatal Four Way Match to win the United States Championship

This match had probably the least amount of heat heading into the pay-per-view, but the star power of Orton may saved some of that lack of luster.

This was the pretty standard WWE Fatal Four Way match, with guys hitting their signature spots, but the crowd was hot for Rusev to get the win. Instead, he was the one pinned after Mahal hit him with the Khallas. Two straight matches in a row with somewhat questionable outcomes.

Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle defeated Stephanie McMahon and Triple H by submission

Since debuting at the Royal Rumble in Philly in January, Rousey has been trying to find her way in WWE both on and off television. While there was room for improvement, the only way to learn and adapt is to just get out there and do it. And that’s what Rousey did leading up to Sunday night. Despite all the criticism she’s received, even some from myself when it comes down to her mannerisms and facial expressions on television, Rousey’s outward showing of emotions by living out her dream is something special to see.

Angle and Triple H started off the match, but once Rousey got that tag while Triple H was laid outside the ring and McMahon knew what was laying ahead. Rousey was an absolute beast in the ring and even though there were some misses, she bounced back well and delivered some smooth maneuvers, like her new and improved twisting Samoan drop. Triple H eventually pulled Rousey out of the ring, prompting Rousey to challenge him one-on-one inside the ring and leveled him with a bunch of punches. It was like we were watching a mixed tag match back in the Attitude Era, but it was awesome.

After a few false finishes, Rousey finally got McMahon’s arms unlocked with her own shoulder and locked in the armbar as McMahon tapped immediately. What a great way for Rousey to make her in-ring debut, and she delivered.

This was absolutely the most entertaining match of the night.

The Bludgeon Brothers defeated The Usos © and New Day by pinfall in a Triple Threat Tag Team Match to win the SmackDown Tag Team Championship

Even though it was cool to finally see the Tag Team Titles be decided on the main WrestleMania card, the match placement for this one after the Rousey/Angle match was tough for these teams. But they made the most of it and even in the “dead zone” of the event, delivered quite an entertaining match.

Luke Harper and Erick Rowan have been an impressive tag team for years in the company and were rewarded Sunday with a win over two of the best tag teams in the world. While I love the Usos and New Day, it’s time for some new blood to infiltrate the tag division. I’m interested to see how Harper and Rowan do with the titles.

The Undertaker defeated John Cena by pinfall

For most of the event, John Cena was chilling in the crowd as a fan. After the Asuka/Flair match, a referee approached Cena and told him The Undertaker was in the building. Cena came out after the SmackDown Tag Team Title match, music and all, but no Undertaker. Finally, the lights went out and when everyone was expecting the Dead Man, Elias’ famous guitar strum hit. And man, did he get booed mercilessly.

Elias walked to the ring for his own show, which was an amazing moment in itself. But once Cena laid waste to him, which we all knew was going to happen, Cena left the ring. On the ramp, he stopped, then the lights went out again. The spotlight came on with Undertaker’s boots, trench coat and hat laying in the middle of the ring, right where he left it at last year’s event in Orlando after losing to Roman Reigns.

Lightning struck his garb, the lights went out again, then the famous gong hit. The Undertaker was back.

Oh, and he squashed Cena in less than five minutes. Yep. That was a thing. All that… for that. But I’m not even mad.

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn by submission

Daniel Bryan is back! He truly is something special. Owens and Zayn came from behind during their entrance to attack both Bryan and McMahon. They again powerbombed Bryan on the ring apron, which called for a stretcher job. McMahon would take on Owens and Zayn by himself for a while, but Bryan came down to save the day. 

And he didn’t change a thing about his in-ring style like most of us thought he would. He did the same high-risk maneuvers, complete with the dropkick off the top rope that I’m not a huge fan of, and stayed down and held his head for a couple seconds before kipping up. He fooled us!

Bryan basically led the rest of the match and hit Zayn with his running knee and locked in the Yes Lock to win the match via submission. Great return for him to the ring.

Nia Jax defeated Alexa Bliss © by pinfall to win the Raw Women’s Championship

The storyline heading into this match was one WWE has told before - woman makes fun of another woman about her size and height and wits when they were supposed to be best friends. The premier good vs. evil type of stuff. Jax is now looked at as a beacon of light for those that relate to her in real life, which is something that can have a good effect on many people watching the programs each week on television.

In this one, which seemed less predictable than Asuka winning against Flair, which didn’t actually happen, the good overcame evil this time. Jax defeated Bliss after hitting her with a Samoan Drop off the top rope. Looking forward to her run with the title.

AJ Styles © defeated Shinsuke Nakamura by pinfall to retain the WWE Championship

The rematch of Wrestle Kingdom 10 that nobody ever thought they would see in WWE took place in New Orleans Sunday night as one of the co-main events of the show. Yes, even though Nakamura won the 2018 men’s Royal Rumble match in Philly in January, he wasn’t the guy WWE pegged as going on last on this night. Instead, Lesnar and Reigns would have that honor, much to the surprise of nobody.

Because these two have wrestled before, their familiarity with each other resulted in crisp action back-and-forth. Nakamura kicked out of the Phenomenal Forearm and Styles kicked out of  the Kinshasa, but the crowd didn’t really get into it. When Nakamura was going for another Kinshasa, Styles rolled him up into the Styles Clash and pinned him for the victory.

Crowd reaction for this one lacked big time, but Styles nor Nakamura really put on a dream match type of performance.

After the match was the bigger story. Nakamura presented Styles with the title while on one knee. Then he low blowed him and attacked him, finishing him off with a Kinshasa outside the ring. Heel Nakamura? WWE has my attention.

Braun Strowman and a fan named Nicholas defeated Sheamus and Cesaro to win the Raw Tag Team Championships

Well… Braun Strowman is a champion.

Strowman went all this time without naming a partner for himself in this match because he wanted to wait until he got to New Orleans to pick a random partner out of the crowd. And that he did. Strowman found a “random” fan Nicholas in the crowd to become his partner for the night.

And they won the titles. It happened. Whether this is the start of Strowman choosing random kids from the audience to be his partner or this is something more, it may be safe to say Strowman’s road to the Universal or WWE Championship.

According to PW Insider, Nicholas is the son of WWE official John Cone.

Brock Lesnar © defeated Roman Reigns by pinfall to retain the Universal Championship

While I thought WWE did a good job in building this match, it was clear from the start that the crowd in New Orleans didn’t care for it. Reigns was booed, Lesnar was booed, and there was no chance WWE could have saved this.

It’s pretty clear the fans have spoken. Reigns as champion just isn’t going to move the needle. At least not as a babyface, face of the company type. And Lesnar dominating him and winning after six F5’s proves that.

No matter what these guys tried to do, the crowd just wasn’t having it. There were reports from people in attendance that a beach ball was floating around in the crowd during this match, and there were a few audible, “Boring!” and “This is awful!” chants coming through the audio feed. It couldn’t have been worse. Even a huge gash on the head by Lesnar to Reigns couldn’t get the crowd into the match.

It was more blood than we’ve seen in a decade-plus in WWE. And even in the midst of rumors of Lesnar leaving WWE to go back to UFC, WWE decided to keep the Universal Championship on him. That is probably the most interesting thing coming out of this pay-per-view. Did Lesnar sign a new deal? Does he have one month left? Will he drop the title Monday night on Raw? There are plenty more questions now than there were 24 hours ago.

And maybe that’s exactly what WWE wanted.